He was reminiscing about the taro root and coconut palms from his home in West Africa. “It seemed natural to me, if I was going to live anywhere away from Africa it would be here,” Jamallad, a musician, told me. “The road to Hana is just like driving to my village, in the same jungle. I call it the driveway to Hana.”
Born Lucien Kouassi in a small village in Ivory Coast, Jamallad’s life has been a musical journey that’s led him around the world. Today he lives on Maui and recently recorded Global Citizen, an album of original world music.
Jamallad said that when he was young, an American Peace Corps volunteer and folk singer musical talent discovered him. She taught him to play guitar and read music before lobbying to get him admitted into an exclusive West African music school. His instructors and mentors encouraged him to pursue scholarships and classical education in Italy and France before finally obtaining a music degree at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Even as a young man, Jamallad says he knew his musical purpose was to spread a message of peace and unity. Near the end of his college career, he cast off his given name and became known as Jamallad, an African word meaning “togetherness.”
Along with his band, he traveled up and down the east coast, playing at universities, small venues and spring break parties. Later he and his band moved to Los Angeles, where he spent a decade creating and recording music, performing and teaching classical guitar. Ultimately, one of his students led him to Maui, where he believes he’s found his greatest opportunity yet.
But his move has not been without pain. Not long after arriving, he suffered a fall down a long, steep slope while working as a landscaper. The accident left him with a severe and painful spinal cord injury, resulting in little mobility, no income, health insurance or a place to live.
Soon after the accident, Jamallad went to the Makawao Public Library to promote himself as a guitar teacher. There Chetanaa Zoeller sat down at a table beside him. At the time, Zoeller’s son, Suntana Villanueva, was nine years old and an aspiring bassist. They talked a while about lessons before she noticed his self-conscious limp. She offered to exchange bodywork for music lessons for her son.
A partnership was born, leading to friendship and then romance. Zoeller helped to heal Jamallad using naturopathic remedies, supporting him through a very invasive surgery and, to Jamallad, the most therapeutic method of all–creating music.
They worked together to record an eclectic album of high-energy songs. Jamallad wrote the music–a difficult to classify mix of African roots, folk, classical rock and reggae sounds–while they poured themselves into writing positive, constructive and humanitarian lyrics.
Several talented Maui musicians offered their gifts into the mix with bass, keyboard and backup vocals. Even the young Villanueva contributed with a spoken word piece on the track “Global Citizen.”
Each track on Global Citizen has a different flavor. “Jamallad” seems to have the most reggae influences, while “Give Love a Chance”–a song written for Zoeller–has more of a catchy, pop sound. Most of the songs have at least a few French lyrics, which is Jamallad’s native tongue.
“There’s a proverb in Africa that says, ‘It doesn’t matter how long the branch stays in the river, it will never turn into a crocodile,’” Jamallad told me. “Even after years in Europe and the U.S., I haven’t lost my accent, and that’s the African element that stays with me.”
The official release date for Global Citizen is Mar. 25, but people can get their hands on the album now at Ono Gelato and Morning Glory Coffee in Paia, Requests Records in Wailuku, Lahaina Music and Kihei Music & Video.
For more info, visit www.unitedglobemusic.com. MTW